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Amalfi Coast Slaves: The Story of Slavery in Italy

Here's a little bit of history about the Amalfi Coast and the coast all the way down to Calabria and Sicily that not many people know about.

When you think of slavery, do you think of European slaves?

An Italian village set high above the sea on the Amalfi Coast.An Italian village set high above the sea on the Amalfi Coast.

Not many people do and yet a huge slave rebellion happened here in 73 BC.

Most of the slaves were from Eastern Europe, Germanic countries or the British Isles. The conditions under which these individuals lived were beyond oppressive, their lives marked by servitude and suffering. But the spark of rebellion ignited, and they united under a common cause, transcending boundaries of nationality and language.

The slave rebellion was defeated by the Romans.

The Romans, in their brutal retribution, ordered the crucifixion of the rebels – men, women, and even children. Along a harrowing 200-kilometer stretch of road, from the serene southern reaches of the Amalfi Coast to the heart of Rome itself, the crucifixes bore the weight of 6,000 lives extinguished. It was a chilling display of power, intended to deter any future insurrections.

This tragic and haunting tale found new life in the 1960 film, "Spartacus," directed by Stanley Kubrick. The movie, inspired by historical accounts, sought to bring this chapter of defiance and despair to the forefront of popular culture. It served as a reminder that even in the face of overwhelming adversity, the human spirit can rise, and stories of resilience and sacrifice can endure through the ages.

Italian townhilltop town

Hill Top Safety

Then there is the reason why so many towns were built high above the sea on hilltops.

North African pirates continually raided these towns in the 15th and 16th centuries. Captured survivors—families, children, and women—were sold off as slaves in markets across Africa. 

These dark times had a lasting impact on the psyche of coastal communities. The specter of piracy cast a long shadow, leading to the construction of hilltop towns as a defensive measure. These towns, fortified and strategically positioned, became sanctuaries against the marauding corsairs.

These marauding pirates, often referred to as Barbary corsairs, hailed from the North African regions of Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli. Their motives were driven by both financial gain and religious fervor, as they aimed to capture and convert Christian slaves to Islam. They operated with impunity, launching audacious raids that struck fear into the hearts of coastal communities.

Some say that over a million people were taken in Italy, Spain, and many other countries. Some were even taken from far away as Ireland.

When you consider that southern Italy had a population of around 2 million at the time, you can see how huge the impact was. People lived in terror, and children, wives, and husbands that were taken were never seen again by family left behind.

Those taken didn't have much to look forward to either. Their future lives were often short and brutal: they worked in brothels in Africa or as galley slaves, rowing until they dropped dead, were injured, or were too old to row. Being unable to row usually meant you were thrown overboard and left to die a death by drowning, or you were food for sharks before you even had the chance to drown.

The strange thing is that I knew nothing of this. Why don't they teach this at school? Or did they teach it at your school? Did you know about this?

If you'd like to read more about the subject, then drop by Wikipedia.

Sorry for the history lesson.

I found it fascinating, and I hope you do too.

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